Talking docs and dance with Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed


Directors Andreas (left) and Christian (right)

Hitting UK cinemas this week, the documentary Ballroom Dancer reveals the emotional strain hidden behind the make-up, smiles and sequinned outfits in the world of professional dancing. DG’s Joëlle Pouliot talked pirrouettes and docs with the film’s directors.

Filmmakers Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed sat down with Joëlle Pouliot this week to discuss what they discovered in the process of filming  l’enfant terrible of the dance world – Slavik Kryklyvyy –  while he fought to be the dancing star once more. The strenght of this story? According to the directors many of us will relate to his ongoing struggle for success.


DG: How did you come across dancers Slavik Kryklyvyy and Anna Melnikova, and decide to make them the focus of your film?

CHB: Our producerJakob (Nordenhof Jonck) is married to a former dancer who used to compete in the high level of ballroom dancing. Hetold us about it and we thought that this was an environment that hadn’t really been portrayed yet. What caught our interest was that most of these couples are couples privately and professionally, which must be really hard, to intertwine those two spheres.

We started following the world champions, Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski and Anna Melnikova’s former partner who was dancing with another Ukrainian girl. After a while, we kept hearing about Slavik who was a bit of a legend in that environment. When we finally got a hold of him, we met him once, filmed him once and thought: okay, this guy is so dramatic and he’s got so much at stake! He was in the end of his career and it was a do or die for him. So we decided to stick to him and skip the other couples.


DG: Why did you choose not to include any of his former dance partners in the film, in particular Joanna Leunis who seemed to haunt Slavik as she became so successful after they stopped dancing together?

CHB: We liked her to be a distant symbol of a dream he once had. We thought about putting her in there but we really realised during the editing process that we needed to focus on him and see the world through his eyes.

We wanted to be very serious about it. We didn’t come from that environment and didn’t know much about it. Initially, we found it a little bit corny and were laughing when we first filmed the competitions. It’s a little absurd, that whole thing. After a while our laugh faded and we looked at it through Slavik’s point of view. He’s a very serious guy and had a lot at stake.


DG: Why do you think Slavik was so open to having you film his most difficult moments and to having his inner demons revealed on camera?

CHB: I think he is a performer and he likes to be portrayed, to stay in the limelight.  But I think often when you point a camera towards someone, something happens; it’s like self-therapy for the person being portrayed. I think at a subconscious level he wanted to see what this could bring him to be doing it.


DG: Where there times were you felt he was staging it or was this genuinely who he was?

CHB: Anna felt that Slavik actually behaved in the film (laughs), so I don’t think he put out any extra drama for the film. He doesn’t stand out as too sympathetic at times but I actually think he toned it down a little bit and didn’t give us any drama just for the sake of the film.

I think most people are a little scared of him. He seems a little brutal and aggressive in his fight for success and doesn’t always treat Anna very well. But the people who seem to sympathise with him when they see the film are people with big dreams themselves. On that note I think it’s a film that a lot of people can recognize themselves in. In modern day society, success is what we are all striving for, we work extremely hard and this is a film about the consequences about being too single minded on your career.


DG: Anna seems to grow an inch taller throughout the film as she builds more confidence. There’s a lot going on in her personal life there. Was she comfortable with you filming all of it?

CHB: She was completely open with the process. She really develops during the film; it really shows her liberation as a woman. She starts off as a little insecure Russian girl and she ends up as a beautiful self-assured woman. It’s quite amazing how much she changes throughout the story.


DG: Towards the end of the film, Slavik can’t seem to tell Anna how he really feels. The song “Always on my mind” by Michael Bubblé starts playing as they dance together. Did you add that music for the doc or is that what Slavik chose to play?

AK: They had actually been practicing the particular dance to this track. But of course the lyrics to the track are so precise to the description of their partnership. It’s almost too much. I don’t think we could have added that track to the scene ourselves because it would have been too obvious. It was very touching because what Slavik couldn’t express in words, he could express through that song and dance.”


DG: Was there anything that you didn’t include in the film that you wish you could have?

AK: We felt that we could have included more of Slavik’s past and maybe his childhood. We actually tried a few times to film him with his father who used to be a body builder in Ukraine. We knew that Slavik wanted to impress his father and live up to him. He told us he was striving for that. That part of his life would have been nice to include but it wasn’t possible because Slavik kept us out of that and we didn’t get the chance to meet his father. It might have been a key to Slavik’s personality, to his ambition and longing for perfection.

I think he had some limits on how much he wanted to include us in his family and private life. He liked us to be in his space between him and Anna but not further than that. When you make documentaries you have to respect people’s limitations and when they say no you can’t force it too much. Slavik and Anna were already very generous for letting us into their lives.


DG: Any plans for future collaborations as directors? What are your solo projects?

AK: We are working on different projects separately now. But it’s been a great collaboration so we are definitely open to doing it again at some point, with the right story.


Ballroom Dancer was released in UK cinemas 18 January. It won Best Documentary at the Raindance Film Festival in London and an award for Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.


Dance Advantage Best Dance Blog 2013

So a little over a year ago I started dancing with this crazy Bulgarian named Ivan.  And a little over a year ago, I had so much to say about it to my husband that his eyes would glaze over.  I discovered another outlet and I began writing this blog.

One of my first posts very surprisingly went semi-viral and it convinced me to stick with this blog thing, that maybe, just maybe, I had something valuable to say and share about my dancing life experiences.

A little known fact is that, shortly after I began the blog, I also discovered this amazing website called Dance Advantage.  Around that time I saw that they had a dance blog contest and I think, though I could be mistaken, that it was through this contest that I discovered this entertaining, funny blog called Adult Beginner that had won the contest.  Well, I’ve continued to follow AB because it is seriously hilarious, but back then I vowed to myself that I’d put in for this contest in the following year 1) because it was so cool and 2) because it led me to other great dance blogs that I still continue to enjoy and 3) it hooked me up to DA which has all sorts of great dance-related info and I follow on Twitter.

So, not wanting to make bad on my promise to myself, here is me entering the contest.

The deal is this, I need comments on THIS blog post to even be considered for the second round.  The blogs with the most comments get to move forward.  There are many categories – I’m entering under “Recreational Dancer.”

But you know me, and I can’t write a blog post this short so I thought I’d kind of reflect on where I was a year ago, seeing as it is the new year and all.  It also seems apropos since it was a year ago that I thought about entering this contest.

So I looked up the post on my blog that was almost exactly a year from today.  It turns out, the post was mostly about confidence – probably one of the main themes I’ve broached on this blog o’mine.  In it, Ivan was doing what he does best, pulling out the part of me that wants to express myself, the part of me that I choke and hide, the part of me that makes me a performer.  A particular portion stood out for me, though.  Ivan had asked me how soon it would be until we were able to do that famous lift from “Dirty Dancing,” which, in my mind, the answer is, like, never….but anyways…..

He’s  [Ivan] fearless, though, and doesn’t have my particular flavor of mental baggage that creates limitations in my mind.  I’ve seen him toss around a 70-year-old woman, one of his students, in the Hustle.

And don’t get me wrong, I have big dreams when it comes to dancing. In my head I have all sorts of fantasies about how I’m going to look, that I’m going to win some scholarship competitions, that I’m going to eventually get to dance in open heats in the night sessions when the lights are low and the ballroom is buzzing. But all that feels like a fairy tale – things I generally do not talk about for fear that others will think me mad but that are in my heart and that I desire greatly.

But today is not the day to attempt this particular trick.  Just standing still and preparing to move have been a challenge.  But ultimately I feel encouraged by Ivan’s belief in me.  Sometimes I think he believes in me more than  I do.  That’s why he endlessly crams my brain full of details.  That’s why he has me do the same thing over and over and over.

And one day I’m going to believe in myself this much.  One day, if I stick with it, and work hard, and practice, and sweat, then one day I will get to maybe play out in real life some of those fantasies in my head.  And what an amazing feeling that will be.

But here’s the thing.  Looking back from where I was to where I am, though I may not be where I’d ultimately like to be, I do believe that I’ve gained some confidence and belief in myself.  I do believe that what I deeply desire is, in fact, possible for me…and that, in and of itself, is a huge win.  I believe that I could dance in open heats in night sessions, and I have already danced in two scholarship rounds.  Though I earned poor results, entering those scholarships was the first step to actually placing well in one.  I do now begin to believe that I will get to play out in real life these fantasies in my head…they are becoming more of a reality with each practice and lesson, with each day I stick to my diet, with each coaching or dance camp and competition I attend.

Maybe I haven’t realized these things just yet (or ever), and maybe I still struggle with believing in myself, but truthfully I feel that I’m closer today than I was a year ago.  And, I’m committed.  Like damn skippy!


When it comes down to it, I’m proud of myself for the advances I have made, and I’m ready to dig in and work to improve my shortcomings.  I’m motivated, and boy does that feel good.  It’s funny because at the end of the post from a year ago I included a link to a video about pushing that extra bit to make the difference between good and great and now, in a year’s time, I find myself once again motivated by a quote to push myself harder and more profoundly (as in my last post).

Well, anyways, I felt confident enough to share this photo with the Facebook world and that’s a pretty good thing, I’d say.


Like, I still see the imperfections (oh, trust me, I do!)…but I’m still willing to put it out there anyways and say, “This is me. Here I am.”  That makes me feel like I am a courageous person, and a person with courage like that can go far in this world….they could probably even dance in open heats at night and place well in scholarships.  They could probably even shed 100 pounds.

So here’s to me believing in myself and what is possible in the coming year.


What’s possible for you?

And now, since this is my entry into the Dance Advantage contest and all, here is is where I ask (*beg*) you to please make a comment on THIS post so that I might possibly move forward to the next round of competition.  Please consider sharing a link to this post so I might accrue more comments if you’ve been moved by what you’ve found here, or have gained any value from the blog.  I have until January 22nd to garner as much support (i.e. comments) as possible.

As always, I’m grateful.  Thanks for your support, whatever it looks like!


13 Ways to Make 2013 Your Best Year Yet


What’s your dance goal for 2013? Whether it’s finally nailing a quadruple pirouette, making your studio’s senior competition team or booking your dream job, DS is determined to help you get there. So we asked a few of our favorite industry insiders, “What can dancers do to have the best year ever?” Here’s what they had to say.

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Sandy with Derek Keeling as Danny Zuko in the Broadway revival of Grease

1. “Be fearless. I spent years terrified I’d make a mistake. But I didn’t realize I was boxing myself in. You will mess up—that’s life. Take a chance. Be ‘strong and wrong’ instead of sticking to what’s safe.” —Amanda Lea LaVergne, dancer in Annie the Musical

2. “See everything you can. Art exhibits, concerts, movies—they give you food for your mind. Then, share what inspires you. That’s how art evolves.” —Caroline Fermin, Gallim Dance

3. “Be versatile now to work more later. Dancers do steps; true artists rock people’s souls. You can make a beautiful black and white painting, but adding color makes it a masterpiece. Add new colors to your palette by learning every style you can. Eventually you’ll have a rainbow of choices to pull from.” —William Wingfield, “So You Think You Can Dance”

4. “Nourish your body with good foods, quench it with water, test it to its limits and rest it when it asks for it. Your body is your greatest asset, but it can be your biggest weakness if you don’t treat it kindly. Take care of it.” —AL

5. “Make a plan of action. Carve out a road map with your agent to achieve your goals in 2013. If you’re not represented, ask an established dancer to share his or her path with you. That will give you insight into what steps to take.” —JC Gutierrez, dance and on-camera director at McDonald Selznick Associates

Keenan Kampa (Gene Schiavone)

6. “Present yourself well in class and rehearsal. Be clean, smell nice and be comfortable in what you’re wearing. It makes such a difference.” —Keenan Kampa, Maryinsky Ballet

7. “Incorporate a yoga class into your schedule. You’ll feel balanced and connected to your breath.” —Tyce Diorio, choreographer

8. “Read the news. Keep your mind sharp and stimulated. Knowing what’s happening all over the world puts everything in perspective.” —KK

Zoey Anderson (Vanessa Millecam Photography)

9. “Don’t worry about other dancers. If you keep working on yourself and stop comparing yourself to others, you’ll progress faster. Plus, you’ll have more fun!” —Zoey Anderson, dance major at Marymount Manhattan College

10. “Research dance history. Look up dancers from film, Broadway, etc., and study what made them great. That was helpful for me as a teenager, and I still do it today.” —TD

11. “Find something besides dance that brings you joy. Every experience you have furthers who you are as an artist.” —Ryan Steele, Specs in Newsies on Broadway

12. “Try new, crazy things. Go to that audition, learn that difficult move or take that Bollywood class. Sitting back, waiting and wishing will get you nowhere.” —ZA

13. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, but it’s important to take some time to have fun.” —JG